Legendary rockers play opera house

Hot Tuna acoustic in Camden

Feb 09, 2012
Hot Tuna — Jorma Kaukonen, left, and Jack Casady — are joined by mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff on their current acoustic tour.

Camden — Last spring, iconic roots rockers Hot Tuna released their first new studio album in 20 years. They have been touring, in both acoustic and electric configurations, ever since and will visit the Midcoast Wednesday, Feb. 22. Rock & Roll Hall of Famers and Jefferson Airplane founding members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the Camden Opera House, Elm Street/Route 1.

Hot Tuna had never quit playing; it just took awhile to put that work to disc. Returning to upstate New York decades after they first played Woodstock, core members Kaukonen and Casady went into Levon Helm’s studio over last winter to record 12 new tracks with mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff, who will play with them in Camden, and drummer Skoota Warner. The album easily weaves between hard-driving blues and acoustic tunes including six originals and covers of songs by blues legends Papa Charlie McCoy and Reverend Gary Davis.

The album, "Steady As She Goes," has Kaukonen and Casady reflecting on their past and present life. From their days playing together as teenagers in Washington, D.C., to their current acoustic and electric blues, probably no one has more consistently led American music for the last 50 years than Kaukonen and Casady. During his college years, Kaukonen became enamored of Davis' guitar playing and became a master of his finger-picking style. Meanwhile, Casady took an interest in the electric bass, at the time a controversial instrument in blues, jazz and folk circles.

In the mid 1960s, Kaukonen was asked to audition to play guitar for a new band that was forming in San Francisco. Although an acoustic player at heart, he grew interested in the electronic gadgetry that was beginning to make an appearance in the popular music scene, particularly in a primitive processor brought to the audition by one Ken Kesey. He decided to join the band and soon called for Casady, 4 years younger and now playing the bass, to join him in what became The Jefferson Airplane.

While putting together the soundtrack of the 1960s in The Jefferson Airplane, Kaukonen and Casady remained loyal to the blues, jazz, bluegrass and folk influences of the small clubs and larger venues they had learned from years before. They would play together at clubs in the Bay Area, often after a set with the Airplane. This led to a record contract; in fact, they had an album recorded before they decided to name their band Hot Tuna.

The early Hot Tuna concerts were loud — in an era in which volume often trumped musicianship, Hot Tuna provided both. Album followed album, more than two dozen in all, not counting solo efforts, side projects and appearances on the albums of other bands and performers. Along the way, the pair have been joined by a succession of talented musicians, all fitting in to their current place in the musical spectrum as two of America’s most important rock musicians. Rolling Stone has named Kaukonen one of the top guitarists of all time, while Casady is considered one of today’s most innovative electric bass players, having played with such legends as Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead.

After two decades of acoustic and electric concerts and albums, Hot Tuna has begun to focus more on acoustic music, playing more intimate venues with a more individual connection to the audience. Both Kaukonen and Casady had become interested in teaching, as well: Kaukonen and his wife opened Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp in Ohio, a site for intensive workshops; and they started BreakDownWay.com, an interactive teaching site that brings musical instruction to students all over the world.

General admission tickets are $39, available online at BrownPaperTickets.com or at HAV II in Camden, Reading Corner in Rockland, Bella Books in Belfast, Mexicali Blues in Newcastle and Musician’s 1st Choice in Augusta. The opera house box office (cash/check only) will open at 5 p.m.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to dernest@villagesoup.com.

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